By STEVE MASCORD
WELCOME to rugby league, the sport that doesn’t let players go overseas for internationals.
I was once asked, publicly, by colleague Martin Sadler if I was embarrassed to be associated with rugby league sometimes.
The answer is unequivocable: very frequently.
And I feel ashamed once again after the response from some clubs to the opportunity being presented to the sport on the stand-alone Origin weekend next year – for England to play New Zealand in Denver.
There are so many aspects of this that make it completely outrageous and humiliating, that we could do anything but fall over ourselves to help the promoter, Jason Moore.
Top of these, however, is: there are no club games that weekend! We are so backward, selfish and amateurish that we’ll let players represent other countries as long as they do so … in Australia!
If you have any pretence of being an international sport (didn’t we just hold a World Cup?) then your players MUST be available to go anywhere in the world on a Monday morning to play the following weekend.
Look at what the soccer players do! They fly to South America, play an international and are – in some cases – back playing in Europe a couple of days later.
If our workforce is unable to do this, then we are giving a free hit to those who are. Don’t give me this argument about it being a tougher sport – the wider sports marketplace doesn’t care.
If we can’t at least do what our major competitors can do, why are we bothering? Why did we have a World Cup?
The World Cup in North America in 2025 is the single biggest opportunity for rugby league since 1895. Yet we can’t even organise a match there in 2019 because of parochial Australian fears about the big bad world out there.
The NFL can play games in Sydney and London but our pissweak little competition is too inward-looking to take the same risks in reverse.
Here are some more arguments: this is NOT an exhibition match. England and New Zealand last year undertook to play on the stand-alone Origin weekend as long as there is one; it makes sense given Australia are out of play and they are the next two strongest countries.
How on earth can clubs dictate where internationals are played on an international weekend? When they have no games…. You have an international weekend but then you insist all the games are at Campbelltown. Really?
Are we forgetting England travelled to Sydney last year, played Samoa and went home the next day, despite the fact they DID have club games on the same weekend?
The sad thing is that the clubs are probably just using this to force the issue of salary cap concessions for players injured during rep games. If the NRL agrees – hey presto, the Denver game gets the green light. But does the NRL care enough about this match – which will resonate in the sport’s history long after everyone forgets James Graham missing a match the following Thursday with a sore shoulder – to bother negotiating?
My understanding is that the RLPA were talked around on this. They were on board. When I wrote about a looming battle over fixtures such as these, South Sydney general manager of football Shane Richardson protested that the clubs were “not the bad guys” and just wanted to be told what was going on.
I have personally suggested to Jason Moore he replace New Zealand with Tonga in this match and then dare the clubs to stop Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo going to the airport.
Rugby league started with rebellion. In order to realise its potential, it’s going to need plenty more of them.